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Spring 2014
Sky Report: Primary Schools
by Dr. Bob Doyle, Portable Planetarium Teacher

Resources for Primary School Teachers

Spring (Apr. - Jun.) 2014 Primary School Sky Basics

On a clear night, ½ of the universe is visible from your backyard! The night sky appears dark because space is mostly empty and the universe is expanding (growing in size). The night stars are distant suns that are much, much further away than our sun, our home star. The closest heavenly body to us is our moon, which goes around the Earth about every 4 weeks. With our eyes, we can see grey patches on the moon, which are huge lava plains that hardened and cooled in the moon's early history. As the moon orbits Earth, it is lit up by the sun. The moon has a day side and a night side, just like our Earth. When the moon appears skinny, we are mainly seeing its night or dark side. When the moon appears full or nearly full, we are viewing most of the moon's day side. The nearest planets appear as bright, steady points of light. Mercury and Venus with their small orbits, always appear close to the sun, either in the eastern dawn or western dusk. The three outer planets that may be seen at any time of the night are Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

At most about 1,000 stars can be seen on a dark, moonless night. These stars are close by neighbors to our sun within our vast galaxy that has many more stars than the billions of people alive on Earth.

Spring 2014 Skies (April, May & June) for Primary Grades

The brightest point in the evening sky in April through mid June is Jupiter, the biggest planet orbiting our sun.. Look in the western sky as it begins to get dark, there you will see a tiny point of light. (West is the direction of the setting sun.) As it gets darker, Jupiter outshines all the night stars due to its relative closeness and highly reflective clouds. During the spring months, the planet Mars is prominent in the southern evening sky. Mars is bright yellow in April and slowly fades in May and June. The ringed planet Saturn is brightest in May and can be found to the left of Mars. Our moon can aid in finding these planets as it passes by all three planets. In April, the moon passes Jupiter on the 6th, is near Mars on the 14th and close to Saturn on the 16th. In May, the moon passes by Jupiter on May 4th, is near Mars on May 10th and 11th, near Saturn on the 14th and 15th and again close to Jupiter on the 31st. The June moon-planet approaches in the evening are: June 6th for Mars and June 10th for Saturn. During the spring, the brilliant planet Venus may be seen low in the East shortly before sunrise. The planet Mercury can be seen low in the East Northeast in late May, setting more than an hour after sunset.

On spring evenings, The Big Dipper can be seen upside down, high in the North. The two leftmost stars of the Big Dipper point downward to the North Star. While the North Star is rather ordinary in appearance, it holds its position all through the night, every night of the year. For Earth's North Pole very nearly points to the North Star. So as the Earth spins, it causes our sun to appear to roll across the sky during the day while the stars, the moon and planets seem to move around the North Star at night.

The best and brightest evening star on view on April evenings is the star Sirius (sounds like serious), which is also the closest night star visible through the year. To be sure of recognizing Sirius, look in the southwest in the early evenings for Orion's belt of 3 stars in a row. This line of stars points left to Sirius. On May or June evenings, the brightest evening star is Arcturus, a bright orange star that lies along the curve of the Big Dipper's handle. In the west is the bright yellow star Capella, a star that shines in the evenings for three seasons (fall, winter & spring). As Capella descends, a bright star named Vega climbs into the Northeast.

During the 2014 spring months, the evening moon is about half full about six days into the month. This is the best moon phase to spot lunar surface features with binoculars or a small telescope. In April, the moon is full in the early a.m. hours on the 15th. Between 2 a.m. and 4:25 a.m., there will be a total lunar eclipse as the moon passes through the Earth's deep shadow. The other spring full moons occur on May 14th and June 12th.

A lot of progress has been made in the construction of our new Technology Building (the CCIT) at Frostburg State. This building features a digital planetarium with a tilted dome. Our Sunday public programs will resume once the CCIT gets its occupancy permit signed, likely in the early spring of 2014.

For additional information, contact:

Dr. Robert Doyle, Planetarium Director
Frostburg State University
Department of Physics and Engineering
101 Braddock Road
Frostburg, MD 21532-1099
(301) 687-4270






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